Here are our Five Takeaways from Inter’s 5-0 victory over Chievo at the Giuseppe Meazza on Sunday afternoon.
1 - Inter rise to the occasion and seize top spot ahead of Derby d’Italia
When the full-time whistle blew at the Stadio San Paolo on Friday night, confirming Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Serie A table-toppers Napoli, more than “fantastic, Inter have the chance to go top of the league on Sunday!”, my first thought was “oh no, Inter have the chance to go top of the league on Sunday.”
In other words: it seemed like Friday’s result had set Inter the exact sort of trap that they have traditionally been so good at falling into. The opportunity to go top by doing nothing more than beating Chievo at home was an opportunity too good to be wasted, and yet it is for that precise reason many were convinced Inter would waste it. Logic suggested that the illogical would happen - after all we’re Pazza Inter, aren’t we?
As it turned out, Pazza Inter was nowhere to be seen on Sunday. The only Inter we saw was a brilliant Inter, an amazing Inter, an almost-too-good-to-be-true Inter. Instead of shrinking at the prospect of going top with a win they rose to the challenge, grabbing their golden opportunity with both hands and crushing an injury-ravaged Chievo into a pulp, thus returning to top spot in Serie A for the first time since January 2016. They didn’t suffer the pressure, they relished it.
This was quite simply a massacre. Inter scored 5 goals on Sunday and by full-time the team that were most thankful for that were Chievo, with the Nerazzurri having mustered 39 attempts on goal throughout the match - a new record in Serie A this season - as well as 18 corners, 52 crosses and 61% possession.
Couple of Serie A 2017/18 records for single game yesterday for @Inter— Cristiano Acconci (@MrAcconci) December 4, 2017
Total crosses (52)
Touches in opposition area (65)
Total Shots (39)
Key chances (29)
Total layoffs (40)
Most crosses into 18-yard area (12)
Most corners won (7)
It provided further confirmation, if it were needed, of the miraculous work that Luciano Spalletti performed done on the minds of all these players, who have been made to feel ten feet tall by their new manager and are no longer fazed by pressure or responsibility, to the extent that they’ve started to almost invite it onto them.
Whether or not all this makes Saturday’s crunch match against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium a Scudetto showdown is another matter - personally I still don’t believe Inter are legitimate title contenders - but that’s not really important. What counts is that Inter are continuously proving and reproving to us that they’ve become a ‘big team’ again. Sunday’s performance was just the latest hint in that sense.
2 - No Miranda, Gagliardini or Vecino? No problem
Aside from the opportunity of going top of the table, the other big cause for concern heading into Sunday’s game were the simultaneous absences of Miranda, Roberto Gagliardini (both suspended) and Matias Vecino (who managed to recover from a muscular injury to make the bench, but remained an unused substitute).
In the seven matches that Inter had played since returning from the October international break, five had been played with exactly the same starting XI, while the other two had only included one change with Davide Santon coming in for Yuto Nagatomo.
For the first time since the team had really taken off (from the Milan derby onwards) and started to convince everyone with their performances, Luciano Spalletti was going to have to change 3 of his magic 11, and not everybody was convinced that we’d get away with it. “Inter are looking good at the moment, but we’re going to find out a lot more about this team against Chievo next weekend when Spalletti has to cope without three first-choice players”, said Giovanni Capuano on Radio 24 last Sunday.
If that were indeed the case, what we found out against Chievo was extremely positive. Miranda, Gagliardini and Vecino went out while Andrea Ranocchia, Joao Mario and Marcelo Brozovic all came in, yet the team didn’t suffer this enforced shake-up in the slightest and continued as if this XI had been playing together since day one. All three ‘newbies’, for want of a better word, put in excellent performances, with Brozovic in particular impressing behind Mauro Icardi.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Inter have formidable squad depth, but it does mean that our success this season isn’t dependent upon Spalletti being able to play the same 11 men every weekend. As he and several players have said recently, everybody is first choice in this squad - and everybody genuinely believes it.
3 - Inter are the only professional team still unbeaten in Italy
In spite of the 39 shots, 52 crosses, 65 touches in the opposition area and so on, perhaps the most scarcely believable statistic to emerge from this weekend is that, with Napoli’s loss to Juventus on Friday night, Inter are now the only unbeaten team left in Serie A.
Even more remarkable, though, is that we are the only unbeaten team in the whole of Italy’s top three tiers - which contains 98 teams between Serie A, Serie B and Serie C (divided into three regional leagues) - as well as one of only four unbeaten teams in Europe’s so-called top five leagues.
Before this weekend there were seven teams across Italy, England, Spain, Germany and France who were still yet to taste defeat in the league, but during the last three days we have lost three of those seven - Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Valencia.
As a result we’re now down to four: Manchester City, who are ripping this season’s Premier League title race to shreds; Barcelona, 5 points clear at the top of La Liga; Atlético Madrid, who’ve been drawing for fun over the last two months, and Inter. It’s not particularly bad company for us to be in.
Only four teams remain unbeaten in Europe's top five leagues this season pic.twitter.com/1epAVBpsYn— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 3, 2017
Many will inevitably point to how we’re not playing in Europe this season, or how we’ve been lucky in certain matches, or how we’ve not played Juventus yet, but none of that takes away from the fact that this is a phenomenal and hugely unexpected achievement.
You’ve got to hand it to Luciano Spalletti - he’s a man of his word...
#Spalletti: "We will lose games this season but our opponents are going to have to spit blood to beat us. And even that might not be enough"— Serpents of Madonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) August 19, 2017
4 - Ivan Perisic returns to form in style
As far as individuals are concerned, I think there are two that deserve a particular mention following Sunday’s win.
Firstly, of course, Ivan Perisic. The Croatian hasn’t been in scintillating form over the last few weeks - before this match he had only scored once in his last 10 games (vs Verona) - but against Chievo he brought his barren spell in front of goal to an end in the most spectacular fashion possible, by scoring his first hat-trick in an Inter shirt.
With Sunday’s three goals Perisic now has 27 goals and 24 assists to his name since joining the Nerazzurri in August 2015, which means that on average he is directly involved in a goal that Inter score once every 137 minutes. To put that into some kind of perspective, Jose Maria Callejon contributes to a Napoli goal once every 146 minutes, while Mario Mandzukic contributes to a Juventus goal once every 175 minutes. Lorenzo Insigne? Once every 138 minutes (although he has played twice as many games for Napoli as Ivan has for Inter, so it’s a more impressive ratio).
Not a bad ratio, then! (Thank you to Twitter’s Fulvio Santucci for all those numbers.)
Ivan put us through a heck of a lot of stress and angst during the summer, as he continued to flirt with the idea of moving to Manchester United, but his contribution so far this season has ensured that it was all worth it.
5 - Signs of reconciliation between Andrea Ranocchia and Inter fans
Secondly, Andrea Ranocchia.
When we asked Twitter followers last Monday to send in their preferred starting XIs for the match against Chievo, upon hearing news of Miranda, Gagliardini and Vecino’s simultaneous absences, over half the people who responded (8 out of 14) didn’t have Froggy in their team.
To most Inter supporters the thought of Ranocchia starting a game that we needed to win to go top of the league was unbearable, and justifiably so given the disasters he’s produced while wearing an Inter shirt over the past seven seasons. Yet there was never even the slightest possibility that Luciano Spalletti would not pick him, and sure enough it fell to him to replace the suspended Miranda at the heart of our defence.
During his pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon, Spalletti made it clear that he was confident Ranocchia would play well, and inevitably his faith was repaid 24 hours later. Just like Yuto Nagatomo and Davide Santon have done in recent weeks, Ranocchia looked like a completely different player to the one we’ve seen in seasons gone by, exuding a calmness and a security that nobody could ever have imagined him exuding.
What was nicest of all about his performance, though, was the non-stop encouragement and support that Ranocchia received from the 53,403-strong crowd packed inside San Siro on Sunday. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single Inter supporter who doesn’t bear a grudge towards that man, for everything that he’s done down the years, but this weekend that was all put to one side for the good of both him and the team.
The upshot was that Ranocchia ended up publicly thanking the fans for their support during both of his post-game interviews, likening the warm and friendly atmosphere at San Siro to the atmosphere one might find when playing football in the park with friends.
#Ranocchia: "Today it was like I was playing at home in front of all my friends. the fans were fantastic, but Inter fans always are. I'm happy with my performance today, I'm giving everything for this shirt & if we keep going like this we can do important things this season" ⚫— Serpents of Madonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) December 3, 2017
The question now is whether this encouraging display and positive reception will prove to be a flash in the pan, or the start of something more profound. Spalletti has already regenerated several Inter players who we thought we’d never see wearing our shirt again, and who we assumed had nothing to contribute to our cause. Can he now take on the ultimate challenge and come out of that one victorious as well? Can he recover the unrecoverable?